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Eureka Stockade (1984)

Character Name: Charles Ross

On Sunday, December 3rd in 1854, British police officers and soldiers attacked a miner’s camp known as the Eureka Stockade. The diggers put up a good fight but were overwhelmed easily and it was soon over. Narrated by Sarah Jamison (Amy Madigan), an American entertainer, this Australian made mini-series recreates the events leading up to this brief, but important, battle. While historically it is considered a defeat on the part of the miners, it led to political and personal benefits for many Australians.

Following the California gold rush, many fortune seekers traveled to central Australia and the gold fields at Ballarat. The British police officers who maintained order often did so with a heavy hand. Every digger was required to have a license and if he was found without one, he was sent to the lockup. Frequent raids into the camps for offenders did nothing but increase the digger’s animosity toward the usually corrupt police officers.

One evening, an intoxicated miner by the name of James Scobie is murdered by the Eureka Hotel’s owner, James Bently, and his thugs. The trial that follows fails to bring justice to the diggers. Bently, who has the police in his pocket, is acquitted by the British court. The friends of James Scobie, led by Peter Lalor (Bryan Brown), Timothy Hayes (Bill Hunter) and Charles Ross (Brett Cullen), hold a meeting in order to raise funds for a retrial. The gathering soon turns into an angry mob that decends upon the Eureka Hotel and burns it to the ground. The new Governor, Sir Charles Hotham (David Ravenswood),who is rumored to be sympathetic to the miners cause, only makes matters worse by ordering an increase in the license hunts.

It has been said that behind every good man is a woman. “The Eureka Stockade” is not lacking in strong female characters. Peter has his Alicia (Penelope Steward). A good Catholic girl who stays with the parish priest Father Smyth (Tim Burlinson) when she visits. Timothy is married to the feisty Anastasia (Carol Burns) who manages to raise a large family, dispense good advice and thumb her nose at the authorities. But the couple marked for tragedy is Charlie and Sarah. He wants to make his home with her in Australia and is willing to fight for it. She sees the way things are going and wants to take Charlie back to the States where it’s safe.

The bitterness between the miners and the police continue to mount and eventually troops are called in. The diggers burn their licenses in a show of defiance. Despite attempts by Father Smyth to mediate a peaceful solution, the miner’s prepare for the worst and build the stockade. Beneath the flag of the Southern Cross (designed by Charles Ross; no relation to Betsy) the miner’s swear “to defend their rights and liberty.”

That night, Sarah implores Charlie not to return to the stockade but to stay with her. Even though he loves her, he can’t bring himself to desert his mates. He returns to the camp, leaving Sarah alone.

At dawn, some 300 British police and soldiers attack the stockade, finding many of the miners asleep. Charlie defends the flag, where he is maliciously shot down by an officer that has previously made unwanted overtures to Sarah. It is here, by the flag pole, that Anastasia finds him. She gets him back to Sarah where, in a very moving scene, he dies later that evening as she sings to him.

A seriously wounded Peter is found by Father Smyth who helps him to escape. Peter’s arm has to be amputated and during his recovery, he depends on Alicia and his friends to hide him from the authorities. Tim Hayes is caught as he is running to join his mates at the camp. He and 12 others are taken to Melbourne for trial on the charge of high treason.

Following the battle, martial law is declared in Ballarat and many of the corrupt officers are weeded out and dismissed. By this time, the general public has learned of the events and their outrage aids the cause of the imprisoned miners. All 13 are acquitted and Peter Lalor is granted amnesty. He later represents the colony as a member of parliment, serving for thirty years.

Sarah Jamison lost her Charlie, but found her home in Australia.

(Review courtesy of Sandra Nitchman)